Proliferation or Integration? One Digital Device or Many?

By Jenny Englert, Sr. Cognitive Engineer, Xerox Innovation Group

For years, knowledge workers have used multiple electronic devices to support their work.  In 2008, the Xerox Future of Work team studied people who used multiple computers (one for personal use and one or more for work), thumb drives, firewalls, and phones (home phones, personal cell phones, and work cell phones) – to name a few.

Since that time, smartphones, eReaders, and tablets have exploded into the market.  According to IDC, worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to approach 1 billion by 2015, and Forrester says that tablet sales will eclipse laptop sales by that time. While the introduction of these new technologies makes it possible for knowledge workers to carry yet another device,  these new devices also provide the potential for radical integration and replacement of everyday things.Mobile worker accessing email from their smartphone in their car

In our 2011 Future of Work study, participants said their tablets and smartphones replaced alarm clocks, TV’s and remote controls, calculators, rolodexes, phones and phonebooks, maps, shopping lists, music players, and flashlights. One participant said his iPhone changed his entire camping experience.  He used his phone for both a flashlight and a TV.

We found that most of these participants were delighted with the possibility of integrating multiple functions into their mobile devices.  This integration smoothly supported complicated multitasking.  For example, one participant said he used his phone to listen to the radio, track his mileage, and text a colleague, all while riding his bike to work.  Participants were willing to sacrifice device quality for the convenience of this integration.  Another participant noted that he knew the Kindle was easier to read, but he just wasn’t willing to carry yet another device.

The down side of this radical integration is that it comes with the potential of a high cost if the device is lost or broken.  Most people don’t have a redundant system to serve as a backup for this potential single point of failure.  A study participant highlighted this predicament with this observation:  “if I lose it [my smartphone], I’ll just go live on the streets with my bike and have some cans on the back.”

If you’re a smartphone or tablet user, we’d love to hear your viewpoint.  What kinds of things has your device replaced?  What would happen if you lost or broke your phone?  Or if this already happened, what did you do?

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  1. Mike Gerard March 21, 2012 - Reply

    Smartphones are the information technology version of the Swiss army knife; they can do a lot of things pretty well and it fits in your pocket.

    My phone has replaced my gps, my mp3 player and reduced my personal laptop use by about 50%. It’s starting to replace my physical bank (since I can cash checks with it).

    Fortunately most of what’s in my phone is already in the cloud. So if I lost my phone I could just get a new one and everything would load onto it. Changing out phones last year was a 15 minute process.

  2. Jennifer Englert March 21, 2012 - Reply

    Great comments, Mike! Yes – Apple iCloud is a great solution when you know how to use it. Though we found that some of our participants were not aware of iCloud – or of how to use it. Is there anything you would change about iCloud?

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